Hitting right note with `Idol' contest

Competition: Almost 200 singers try out at a citywide talent search looking for a `superstar' who could possibly become the next `American Idol.'

October 01, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Rasheeda Shavers has dreams. Maybe she'll hit it big as a singer, or as a model. She already has a headline-friendly stage name, Erica Neal. So when the Woodlawn resident, 25, with a sweet voice and red ringlets heard about yesterday's "Baltimore's Idol" talent contest, she cleared her calendar and headed downtown.

For more than three hours, she and dozens of others waited in line, and for what? Three minutes, if that, to wow the judges. A more likely fate would be to get the hook after a few seconds with a polite but deflating "thank you."

Shavers had to fight back tears after her rendition of Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," though the dejection seemed premature. It was hard to tell at that point.

Much was at stake besides pride at the offices of 92Q (WERQ) and Magic 95.9 FM (WWIN) on St. Paul Street. Those who got past Round 1 might get a chance, however small, to land a spot on American Idol 2, the sequel to the popular Fox television show. This year's bubbly winner, Kelly Clarkson, has already catapulted to the top of the music charts.

But first local contestants would have to impress Dion Summers, Anthony Horn and two other radio station employees. "We're looking for a superstar," Summers, programming director at WERQ, told more than one hopeful.

In truth, many aspirants -- Shavers included -- were out of a chance to compete on American Idol before they opened their mouths. Fox's rules limit show contestants to be between ages 16 and 24. But yesterday's tryouts weren't restricted by age. So a 44-year-old man busted rhymes and a 15-year-old boy did his best Stevie Wonder.

Horn, events coordinator for both stations, said he was sure young adults would naturally come out on top. Less clear was whether age-ineligible entrants realized they had no chance.

Whatever the case, a long line formed quickly in the morning, snaking onto Fayette Street. There was rap and gospel and Top 40, but mostly it was rhythm and blues. Some sang original numbers, and others performed hits. In all, 189 people tried out between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Round two for the top 64 contestants will be Oct. 11, and the best eight will square off at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall at 7 p.m. Nov. 13. Fox 45, which is working with the radio stations on the contest, will air the event.

The winner, besides getting a car and $2,000, will go to Los Angeles to vie for a spot on the American Idol sequel.

Yesterday, each contestant stood at a microphone in front of the judges and more than a dozen others, including someone with a video camera.

"You have a maximum of three minutes," Summers would say. "If and when we cut you off, we've heard enough, good or bad, OK?"

Leonard Cannady, 31, rapped about the life of addicts -- in his case, a recovering addict.

Please don't leave me for the other guy

The day you roll, so will these tears inside

On my knee I beg and plead

But your head is hard like welfare cheese.

The judges cut him off, thanked him. Some didn't get that far. Bryan Barnes, a 15-year-old student at Frederick Douglass High School, came ready to sing part of a Stevie Wonder tune, "Lately." He was confident.

Inside, Summers told him, "We're looking for a superstar." Then Horn asked, "Why aren't you in school?"

"My momma knows I'm here to do my thing," he said.

Bryan took the microphone and sang, Far too frequently you're wearing perfume. Then he stopped. He asked to start over. Far too frequently you're wearing perfume.

Again he paused. That was it. His memory let him down.

"I forgot the song, yo!" he said to his friends outside.

Soon it was Shavers' turn. The student at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville could not hide her enthusiasm. "Hopefully, I can be a Baltimore idol," she said.

Shavers had two turns. The first was interrupted when someone cut into the line, causing a brief disturbance outside. Both times she sang the same song in the same soulful way.

"You did real good, thank you," Summers said. Some in the room clapped.

Outside, Shavers was a wreck. Her gray-green eyes threatened to bubble over. Her lip quivered.

"I can't believe I messed up," she said.

Messed up? Not compared with some of the others. As it turned out, she made the cut.

"Twelve people sang that song," Horn said, "and she blew them all away." Shavers may yet find her fame, even if it's not on American Idol 2.

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